On July 6, soccer champion Abby Wambach appeared on a podcast hosted by her wife, Glennon Doyle, where Wambach opened up about her childhood experience with church. She said, “I understood that I had a choice to make, and it was like, I was either going to choose me or God.”
It is likely many who heard that celebrated her courage to choose herself over against God’s best. I didn’t feel that way. I hurt for her to have made such a sad choice.
But actually, I saw a much bigger picture than one lady struggling with issues of her identity. I saw the central factor behind the struggle within each of us to decide what will be the source from where we find our direction for life. Not whether we are gay or straight, but who gets to determine the reason we exist and how we choose to live that existence out.
Last week we began this series on Finding Our Purpose for Life. We summarized that introduction with: If we choose anything instead of the Lord as a source we think will produce a full and satisfied life, we will have reduced Him to a mere convenience and not the Lord in whom we trust.
This isn’t just a modern issue, though the social push for identity has never been stronger. Parents who don’t want to declare their babies boys or girls but let them decide that later. People who disregard who they are physically and then we accept that decision by using the pronoun it or they when speaking about them. One transvestite said parents have no idea what culture they are wanting their children to be a part of. But the issue is broader than sexual identity. It is self-determination: who makes the ultimate life choice?
Let’s go back to a strange story in the beginning times, after the Great Flood, when this attitude of self-determination was exposed.
Gen 11:2 It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 They said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly." And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. 4 They said, "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth." 5 The LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.
Where did this tower come from and what was its purpose?
Gen 10:6 The sons of Ham were Cush and Mizraim and Put and Canaan. 8 Now Cush became the father of Nimrod; he became a mighty one on the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, "Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD." 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went forth into Assyria, and built Nineveh.
Most who’ve studied this say it was Nimrod, the mighty one on earth, who directed the building of the Great Tower in the city of Babel. Now, why is an interesting question. Our first reaction is: The people want to build a tower. Italy has its leaning Tower of Pisa, Paris has the Eifel Tower, England has its Tower of London. So, what’s the big deal? The big deal is in God’s reaction. To Him it was much more than just a tower.
They said in building this tower, we will make for ourselves a name so we will not be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.
Sounds like an innocent desire to be remembered for their efforts. People name buildings after people they want to remember all the time. But what did making a name for ourselves mean back then? People are known by their name. It distinguishes them from others. That’s why common names usually had a qualifier. This is Joseph of Arimathea. This is Judas the son of James, not to be confused with Judas Iscariot. Or today, we might say: this is John, Emily’s husband. Or for me, this is Josh’s dad or Jody’s dad or Cory’s dad. I don’t even get a name anymore. But the name expresses how we will be known in the present and remembered in the future.
But under the surface, there’s a hidden challenge within that desire: we will make for ourselves a name. When did they throw out the idea of being the People of God? When did their identity become more important than their connection to the One who brought their family safely through the flood? See, we’re only three generations after the flood. How did they so quickly forget?
Well, maybe this was the first temple for worship. That they wanted to get closer to God by peering into the heavens. Nowhere in the story do you hear this was to know God or to honor God. It is the epic confrontation of man’s desires vs. God’s purpose.
Remember the reason for the flood, that: Gen 6:5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. It was a purging, a cleansing of the evil that had dominated the hearts of mankind, that took them away from God’s intentions.
The flood may have destroyed evil men, but unfortunately, it didn’t wash away the attitudes of their hearts. Because of the fall of Adam, the desire to assert ourselves over God’s right to rule was passed down and exposed in the lineage of Ham, Noah’s third son.
So, here, a few generations later, man once again is rejecting God as interpreter of life and director of man’s ambitions. They were reestablishing the pattern for man’s goal of independence from God by their unwillingness to allow God to have influence over life and be the final voice in the matters of who they were to be and how they were to live. Sounds like current events not to be scattered? Sounds innocuous, but Nimrod was actually shaking his fist at God saying, “I’ll create a structure so high that even You can’t destroy me. Noah built an ark, I’ll build a tower, so that if You flood the earth again, there would be a place high enough we will be untouched by Your judgment.” Nimrod was challenging God’s right to judge sin and intervene in the affairs of mankind. In his own mind that made him equal with God, and in some foolhardy way said he believed he knew better than God in how to run his life and the larger matters of the world.
This tower was a statement that they would determine what made life worth living, how they would be fulfilled and that they alone would decide their own direction.
This story was included in a couple of non-biblical books that give interesting insight. The book of Jubilees says that the people built the tower in order to “ascend on it into heaven.” Baruch goes further, saying that the people not only wanted to ascend into heaven but wanted to pierce it—that is wage war against heaven, to actually fight God for the right to rule their own lives. It was similar to Satan’s desire when he attempted to set himself over God’s rule.
Isa 14:12 How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! 13 But you said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.'
That’s the cry of the heart of those misguided by the importance of their own desires. It reveals the widespread rebellion in the human heart. It is the ultimate misconception that we can build a better life for ourselves than God can design. That we know what’s best for us, that we should have ultimate say over who we are to be and how we are to live.
So, the tower had to be stopped. God had to act.
Gen 11:6 The LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another's speech." 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city.
Speaking the same language was more than just speaking the same language. They were saying the same thing in the same way. They were all thinking the same thoughts. Unless God scrambled their ability to communicate, anything they purposed would be possible. Meaning, they would create their own gods, their own purpose and disregard the God who had delivered them. Look what they were rejecting:
Jer 29:11 For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.
Rom 1:21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
The Bible says they abandoned the tower. It remained unfinished until the Babylonians under Neb’s father rebuilt the great ziggurat, a stepped pyramid, dedicated to their god Marduk in the ancient city of Babylon. The tower was called Babilu, which means Gate of God. It was changed from the Hebrew word Babel which meant to confuse. From Babilu, they named the city Babylon. Alexander the Great eventually destroyed the tower. Today, there’s only a footprint of the foundation.
But what was the story really about: Mankind’s attempt to assert autonomy over God to set his own identity and find his own meaning without Him. It is choosing self-rule and rejecting any recognition of God or dependency upon Him.
Now, that not only defines a world separated from God, but many Christians who have adapted the world’s mindset. For us it comes under the category of idolatry, which was Israel’s curse from the beginning. Finding something more important to them than God upon which they would focus their lives. 5,263 > 3578.
Idolatry is the action of setting up a substitute for God. Some artificial means to accomplish for ourselves only what God can do. A counterfeit reality that bases the reason for life on pleasure and personal fulfillment rather than on the glory of God.
Isa 57:13 "When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you. But the wind will carry all of them up, and a breath will take them away. But he who takes refuge in Me will inherit the land and will possess My holy mountain."
Ps 115:4 Their idols are silver and gold, The work of man's hands. 5 They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see; 6 They have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell; 7 They have hands, but they cannot feel; They have feet, but they cannot walk; They cannot make a sound with their throat. 8 Those who make them will become like them, Everyone who trusts in them.
We become like the God we serve. If we serve idols, we become empty and lifeless like they are. If we serve Almighty God, we become His fulfilled children, reflecting His goodness in our lives and into our world. If we serve idols, we’re never satisfied because an idol produces no fulfillment. But to us, Jesus said: I’ve come that you might have life and have it in abundance.
Unique wording in the Greek. Greek verbs contain their pronouns. The Word come is I come. But for emphasis, there is an additional I in the sentence. I, I come. Meaning, I and only I have come for this purpose. I’m the only one who can provide this.
That’s what Jesus was explaining to the Woman at the Well:
John 4:13 Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life."
It’s the call to the what satisfies life – the water of life. The desire that is only realized in Jesus and by it we want to know God and honor Him with our lives. It tugs on every person’s heart. As Solomon said: Ecc 3:11 He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart.
Question is how do we respond to that desire? How do we find our answer in Him? How do we respond to His offer of a satisfied life?
By settling who He is to us – Phil 2:10 at the name of Jesus [Lord] EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
By submitting our lives fully to Him – 1Cor 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
By loving Him with all we are – Mar 12:30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.'
Ivan the Great wanted a family. An agreement was made between him and the King of Greece for his wife. The King of Greece, however insisted, "He cannot marry my daughter unless he is baptized as a member of the Greek Orthodox Church." Ivan agreed. This meant emersion. When Ivan announced his intentions, his men said they would do as well. But the Greek Orthodox church doesn’t allow warriors into the church. The compromise, they baptized the men with them keeping one arm out of the water, holding up their sword. Point? Partial surrender. Leaving room for a tower to be built where they have left a part their lives under their own control.
If we remove God from any part of our lives, we will decide whether God has the right to any of our lives. We will choose whatever we want to be and who we want to act. When God determines that, we become who we are designed to be.
- The truth that the Lord has final say as to who we are to be and how we are to live must be responded to by more than simple a nod.
- We are engaged in a struggle between the urge to determine life for ourselves and surrendering to His right to rule.
- The lie that we can do a better job than He can in running our lives remains hidden in our hearts and must daily be denied room in our minds.
- When we exchanged the emptiness of our old lives for the fullness Jesus promised, He took ownership of our lives.
- Only when we realize what happened in salvation, does that ownership become the big deal it really is.